Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Final Cut / ***½ (PG-13)

Alan W. Hakman: Robin Williams
Delila: Mira Sorvino
Isabel: Genevieve Buechner
Jennifer: Stephanie Romanov
Nathalie: Leanne Adachi
Fletcher: James Caviezel
Hasan: Thom Bishops

Lions Gate Films presents a film written and directed by Omar Naim. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for mature thematic material, some violence, sexuality and language.)

There are two kinds of science fiction. There is the kind with laser beams and aliens and galaxies far, far away. There is also the science fiction of ideas, the science fiction that makes you think. What if we could do this? Would it be good? Would it be bad? Is this something that already exists in our society today on a not so literal scale? The first kind is not always good. The two combined can be great, or it can stink. But the science fiction that exists mostly as an exploration of ideas is almost always good, if not great.

The Final Cut is a science fiction of ideas. Yes, it takes place in the future, but there is little in this future to distinguish it from the world we live in today. There are no flying cars, no laser cannons, the police aren’t even perpetually dressed in riot gear. In fact, there was hardly a detectable police presence at all. This isn’t a future of paranoia, although paranoia does play a part in this story, but the fact that this is a time before us is barely a detail at all. The only difference in the future that this film is interested in exploring is an optional memory chip which allows a person to record their entire life, as they see it, so when they have passed away a technician known as a “cutter” can retrieve the recording from their brain and splice it together to a manageable length for their loved ones to share and keep for the remainder of their days. They produce a film of a person’s life to help ease the emotional fallout of the living.

Robin Williams plays one of these cutters in what I have begun to classify as his independent roles of genius. Genius might be a bit extreme, but this performance is one of his more restrained that is in the mode of his recent more serious roles in films like Insomnia or One Hour Photo. His Alan W. Hakman is a man whose entire existence has been shaped by the memory of a childhood trauma. It is no mere coincidence that as a cutter he makes his living by making people’s lives seem better than they were to other people. The cutter lives by a strict code (the first rule being that no one with one of these memory chips may be a cutter) and Hakman is the most ordered and mannered of the bunch.

A set up like this might suggest a thriller filled with conspiracies and assassinations and some sort of discovery of a major government secret that could change humanity for all time, but this is a smaller story than that; and better for it. Certainly there are secrets revealed about the darker nature of the deceased, but what this movie is more interested in is dissecting that voyeuristic nature in man. This subtle thriller raises two avenues of thought. The more prominently staged notions ask whether a technology like this is morally right. Is there something wrong with being able to see everything another person has experienced? Even if it is with that person’s consent? If some people have these chips and others don’t, is it fair that others are recording people without their knowledge of it? Does a person’s behavior change if they know everything they do is being recorded (either by themselves or someone else)? And do the cutters have some sort of obligation to the whole truth about a person’s life rather than editing these people’s existence down to a loving memorial tribute, which paints them all as some sort of familial saint.

These memory chip films are presented to a person’s survivors in a ceremonial screening, a kind of funeral, called a rememory. These rememory screenings are heavily protested by people opposed to the technology, including people whose parents had the memory chip implanted in them but have since destroyed their own chips with specialized tattoos, which block the chip’s receiving signal. There is also a former cutter and close friend of Hakman’s, Fletcher (James Caviezel, The Passion of the Christ), who has switched sides and now tries to obtain damning evidence against the people who develop and manufacture the technology through the memory chips of those very people. These details just add question upon theoretical question to this already intriguing concept.

The second, subtler but equally important, line of thought the film explores is the very nature of memory. You know how when somebody is telling a story that the two of you experienced together and they mention details you don’t remember, or outright remember in an entirely different way. Why is that? The phrase “People remember things the way they want to remember them” is one used enough to have some merit. Who is to say which person remembered the experience “correctly.” Is one person’s version of events more valid than another’s? During one of the rememory screenings, the deceased’s brother walks up to Hakman afterward to comment on the memory of a childhood fishing trip. “I always remembered the boat as green, but it was red in the rememory. How could that be? I could have sworn that boat was green.” Hakman answers, “Maybe it was green.”

Despite the subtle nature of the film’s story, there are some not so subtle sci-fi thriller aspects that pop up in the picture. The surname of Hakman may be just a little kitschy considering the more subtle hand of the film’s primary ideas. I am willing to forgive the blatant symbolism in the name of the editing machine used by the cutters, the Guillotine, because it is actually a pretty good name for an editing machine. And it could have been worse; it could have been the Guillotine 3000. The score by Brian Tyler (Godsend) also leaves something to be desired for its heavy handedness.

There were also a number of plot holes during the first half of the picture, the biggest being the fact that it had never occured to the Cutter’s Guild (or whatever they would want to call themselves) that someone would lie about not having a chip or even just not know, since they were implanted in utero. I’d think they’d have some way of scanning for the device to be sure no one could break the cutter’s code. But by the end of the picture all of these flaws just fall away because of the crafty way the story unfolds. There is an inevitable confrontation that must occur for the conclusion of this plot, of which I have purposely divulged little. Although, I knew this confrontation had to come to fruition, the film follows so many seemingly tangent twists before it gets there that by the time its inevitable conclusion did rear its head, I was completely blindsided by it. Perhaps my head was just swimming in the plethora of ideas this story got me thinking on. To call this little thriller thought provoking… well, that just might be an understatement.

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